Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said Wednesday he's disappointed in the students who were out at a large outdoor party in the middle of a pandemic, and the university will consider suspending students who attended.
“We are investigating that, if any individuals are identified out of that gathering, we have a student conduct code that will be applied,” Dietz said during a news conference on campus.
Police in Normal dispersed a crowd of about 70 students who gathered late Tuesday night for a party at an off-campus apartment complex that involved a group of YouTube pranksters called the NELK Boys. They're among a long list of social media influencers who've faced criticism for ignoring COVID precautions.
“It was no joking matter when residents invited them to the town,” said Dietz, adding disciplinary action against the students involved could include suspension, or at least temporary removal from campus.
“Interim suspensions are possible, suspensions are possible, interruptions in the students’ plan to be there are all possible,” Dietz said. “We take this all very seriously.”
ISU officials said large gatherings were reported at multiple locations Tuesday night.
Dietz added he’s talking with Town of Normal officials about additional penalties against the students. The town recently passed a ban on large gatherings near campus following a surge in COVID-19 cases tied largely to the campus population. It calls for fines of up to $750.
Town of Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said the department responded to three large parties: in the 600 block of Broadway Avenue, the 500 block of East Mulberry Street and the 200 block of East Willow Street.
"Groups were dispersed and we are working closely with the university to determine who the organizers were and appropriate recourse for their actions," Bleichner said.
More than 1,300 students
Around 1,321 ISU students already have tested positive for COVID this semester. That's more than 6% of the student body.
New student cases have slowed in recent days, in part because ISU's on-campus asymptomatic testing sites were closed for four straight days over the Labor Day weekend.
ISU senior Kate McCarthy said she and her roommates are relying on those on-campus testing sites. McCarthy said she has been tested twice (both negative) since returning to Normal from her hometown of Oswego last month. (She signed her off-campus housing lease last fall and couldn't break it, leading to her difficult decision to return to Normal.)
McCarthy said she's taking precautions and really only sees her roommates and her boyfriend. But she's concerned about contracting COVID-19.
"It's always a worry in the back of my head anytime I walk outside," McCarthy said.
She praised ISU's handling of the coronavirus last spring, including its decision to continue to pay student workers even if they were not physically able to work on campus.
But she said ISU should have done more this fall to prevent the spread of COVID in off-campus housing, where the bulk of students live. ISU seemed unprepared, she said.
"What do you expect when a whole bunch of college kids come back after being deprived of social interaction during COVID? They're gonna party," McCarthy said.
She's also well aware of Bloomington-Normal's high ranking (up to No. 5 at one point) on the list of U.S. metro areas with the most new cases per capita in the past two weeks.
"It's kind of embarrassing in a sense to see our numbers so high and being nationally ranked for that," McCarthy said.
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